If your only New Year’s resolution is to change up your workout routine and push your way to new gains, then test your muscles with these challenging exercises. BY PETE WILLIAMS, CPT
The best workout is the one you haven’t tried before.
After all, an unfamiliar workout will challenge your muscles in new directions or combinations. If flexibility and cardio endurance are problematic, it’s possible to tweak a gym routine to address those problem areas without taking away time spent on developing strength and power.
Sometimes “new” exercises are familiar ones you’ve given up on because they’re too challenging, or because they target one of your weaknesses. This, of course, is the best reason to revisit them. Such lifts might be among the most popular moves in the gym, but they’re still new to you, especially if they haven’t been attempted since 2011.
Other times the challenge is mastering the movement—not cheating on it, as you’ve done for years—or simply increasing the reps to where it’s actually a challenge. With that in mind, here are 10 “new” exercises to master early this year.
1. Forward Lunge to Instep
Why you should master it: Sports performance guru and Core Performance author Mark Verstegen popularized this effective total-body move 15 years ago as the “world’s greatest stretch,” and now it’s a staple of warmup routines in sports at all levels. Knock it out before lifting.
How to do it: Start by stepping forward into a lunge with your left foot. Place your right forearm to the ground and your left elbow to the inside of your left foot and hold the stretch for two seconds. Then place your left hand outside of your foot and push your hips up, pointing your front toes up. Return to standing position and repeat by stepping out with your right foot. Continue alternating sides for a total of 10 reps.
2. Wall Sits
Why you should master it: Because it’s one of the simplest, deceptively challenging bodyweight exercises you can find, challenging your quads and resetting your posture—which is important in our desk-based, sedentary culture.
How to do it: Stand a foot in front of a wall and sit down, back flat, as if you were sitting in an invisible chair. Hold for 30 seconds, working up to a minute.
Why you should master it: Because you probably haven’t done them since fourth grade when you failed to do more than two for the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Guess what? You’re years beyond puberty and fully capable of doing this move that works the back, shoulders, lats, and forearms.
How to do it: Hanging from a bar with either an overhand or reverse (underhand) grip, pull your shoulder blades back and down to lift your body up. Finish by pulling with your arms. The key is to return to the fully extended position after each rep. You should do at least five–the Presidential standard for fourth graders–and work up to 10.
4. Romanian Deadlift
Why you should master it: Because your hip mobility is so lousy, it’s a stretch (pun intended) to say you’re actually moving the hips enough to fulfill the requirements of the move. You’ve spent enough time watching women do this properly—and look great doing it—so you know what to do. It’s time to master the RDL in 2018.
How to do it: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell at each side. The weight should be on the back half of your feet. Shift your hips back and lower the dumbbells as far as you can while keeping your back straight and your knees only slightly bent. Fire your hamstrings and glutes as you return to standing position. The key is to hinge from the hips, rather than the knees. Do a set of 10.
5. One-arm, One-leg Bentover Dumbbell Row
Why you should master it: Because your hamstrings are tight and you spend little time on them. With this move, you stretch the hammies in the same time you’d spend with a traditional row. Plus, you’ll be doing a move that nobody else in the gym will do.
How to do it: A variation on the traditional one-arm row, this has you bent over with your nonlifting hand balanced on a dumbbell rack or bench. Extend the corresponding leg of your lifting hand back. Do a set of 10, and then switch sides.
6. Kettlebell Swing (Feature photo above)
Why you should master it: Because kettlebells should be in your lifting repertoire, and because of this move’s many benefits: burning a lot of calories and strengthening the hips, shoulders, and core.
How to do it: Stand holding a kettlebell with both hands in front of you with straight arms. Squat as you lower the kettlebell along an arc under and between your legs. Drive your hips and swing the kettlebell up until your arms are parallel to the floor. Remember to keep your arms straight and your shoulder blades drawn back and down throughout the swing. Do a set of 10.
7. Farmer’s Carry
Why you should master it: Ever see a farmer with skinny arms? Of course you haven’t. Whether you do it with heavy dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, or buckets of hog feed, this aptly named exercise helps the shoulders and overall core strength, but it especially overloads the forearms. Plus you’ll feel badass walking circles in the gym around guys wasting time staring at their phones.
How to do it: Deadlift the weights so you’re standing upright. Don’t hunch over. Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down, and fire your glutes as you walk. This can be a challenging move at first, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you’re able to walk further or increase the weight. Walk 10 yards out and 10 yards back.
Why you should master it: Sure, you can do a few. But can you knock out at least 30? That’s been the standard since 2010, when the Spartan Race made it the penalty for failing to complete an obstacle. Do this to get all the benefits of pushups while also challenging your cardiovascular system and ratcheting up the intensity of your workout.
How to do it: From a standing position, squat, place you hands on the ground, and “jump” your feet out into a pushup position. Perform a pushup and then jump your feet to your hands. Then jump as high as you can, throwing your hands over your head. Do a set of 10, and work your way up to 30 in subsequent workouts.
9. Hanging Windshield Wiper
Why you should master it: This not only works your core and shreds your abs/obliques, but also serves as a great indicator of your overall stability and mobility.
How to do it: While hanging from a bar, pull your toes toward the bar. Maintain control with your obliques, keeping toes together, and rotate your legs side-to-side. Since you probably lack the hip flexibility of the dudes in the YouTube videos, lower your legs as far as you can to each side without twisting your hips.
10. 4-in-1 Barbell Biceps Curl
Why you should master it: It keeps your biceps under tension for 40 reps, since it’s really four exercises in one.
How to do it: Start with light weight on a barbell. Curl 10 times. Next, curl halfway, pausing for a second just above your navel at each of 10 reps. Take the bar all the way up and descend just below your pecs, again pausing for a second before returning for 10 reps. Finally, do 10 more full reps.
Pete Williams is a N.A.S.M. certified personal trainer and the author or co-author of a number of books on performance and training.